12 Tips to Assist Your Executive Functions

We talk a lot about executive functions like creativity, time management, persistence, and planning. But that’s a lot to process.

With school starting soon, you may need to be more independently engaged, organized, and motivated than you have been in the past. We thought we’d give you a quick cheat-sheet to help you stay effective in your studying efforts this fall, whether in person or online.

  1. View Processes as Experiments: When something isn’t working, track the impact of what you can vary (place, time, duration, setting, etc.) on your performance.
  2. Become Comfortable with Discomfort: Your decision is not primarily between comfort and discomfort, but between the pain of discipline and the pain of disappointment.
  3. S.T.O.P.: Consider the Space, Time, Objects, and People required for a task.
  4. Floss Just One Tooth: Break tasks into the smallest starting unit and start there.
  5. Think Forward, Reason Back: Instead of looking at the infinite possibilities for what to do next, you can think forward to your goal to identify what needs to happen to accomplish the goal.
  6. Use Neutral or Positive Language: When tempted to judge something negatively, consider the word “interesting” or use the phrase “I get to” in place of “I’ve got to.”
  7. Rehearse Novelty in Things That Don’t Matter: Order a different dessert, brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand, take an alternate route to school.
  8. Write it Down: Even for the most organized, working memory is a capacity that’s easy to stress out: getting thoughts and tasks down on paper will help you think better and get done what you need.
  9. Prioritize the Important over the Urgent: With time management and priority setting, do yourself a favor and watch Randy Pausch’s time management lecture.
  10. Visualize Time as Space: Tangible metaphors are remarkably helpful: ask what an hour looks like; draw on a clock with dry-erase markers; plot things on timelines; pace and move your head when thinking about the steps needed to finish a project.
  11. Pause When You’re on a Roll: When you start back up, you’ll identify with how good progress can feel.
  12. Be Kind to Yourself: Many of us give compassionate guidance to others; extend yourself the same grace.